Pride and Prejudice – Marriage in Modern Times
Marriage has become a more inclusive term over the past decade with the introduction of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which made gay and lesbian marriage possible. This has been praised by many as a victory for equality, something many will think about as London Pride Parade approaches on 6th July. At first glance it could be seen as a step towards equality, but the truth is that same sex marriage simply isn’t the same especially in the legal world. For example:
Married fathers: an exceptional parental responsibility status?
Recent case law and statutes have reiterated time and again the importance of the child’s welfare. How does this link with parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility is defined as the ‘rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’. Here, there is a causal link between the parents’ responsibilities and duties towards the child and the child’s welfare. All gestational/birth mothers automatically have parental responsibility for their children. Fathers, on the other hand, obtain this status in different ways- by either being married to the mother of the child, by being registered on the birth certificate (since 1.12.2003) or via a parental responsibility agreement/order.
Why is parental responsibility so important and can it ever be revoked?
Parental responsibility enables parents to understand what they can/cannot unilaterally do in relation to their child. The law, however, seems slightly unclear in explaining what happens to the status should parents fall below the expected standard. In the case of C v D (Parental Responsibility)  the father lost his parental responsibility as the court found that if he continued to have parental responsibility this would have a detrimental impact on his child’s welfare. Here, the father had parental responsibility by way of being registered on the birth certificate. The father’s controlling behaviour was unacceptable and he was even banned from the school for his behaviour towards staff and in front of other pupils. The courts in this case have set a high threshold – a father’s parental responsibility can only be revoked if there are an exceptional set of circumstances.
The question is, though, does this also apply to fathers married to the mother who automatically acquire parental responsibility? Parental responsibility for gestational/birth mothers and fathers married to the mother is usually not removed other than in adoption cases. But what if the case of C v D had involved a father who was or had been married to the mother? Would the courts have decided to revoke his parental responsibility? Or is the married father’s parental responsibility an exceptional status which means that a married father cannot ever lose parental responsibility?
The law on this point leaves these questions unanswered for now.What is clear is that the child’s welfare is the paramount consideration.
For further information or advice about legal matters relating to your children or any other family law issue please contact Sarah French or another member of the Moore Blatch family team.
Identifying Parental Alienation
Recently, lawyers, judges and social workers have become increasingly aware of parental alienation. It is however just as crucial for parents to also recognise when this is happening and why this might happen.
Parental alienation can manifest itself in many different ways but ultimately it is where a parent has been pushed out of their children’s lives for no justifiable reason. This can occur where a child considers one of their parents to be a stranger or even worse, an enemy. It can occur where a child suddenly no longer wants to see one parent or goes so far as to say they loathe the idea of seeing one of their parents. It’s a painful situation that can not only cause a rift between the parents but also between siblings who may feel an allegiance to different parents. This can potentially tear a family apart.
Sadly, parental alienation is often the result of one parent’s want for this to happen and willingness to let it happen. It can come about as a result of false accusations against one parent which warp the children’s views of the accused parent. This is made further worse when the accuser relentlessly pursues these allegations. The false accusations can cause the attention of the social workers and police involved to inadvertently shift towards these allegations and away from maintaining or at least re-establishing a relationship between the accused parent and their estranged child. A parent might also be excluded from their children’s lives as a result of the other parent’s derogatory and negative comments about them in front of the children. These kinds of comments and behaviour can influence a child’s feelings and lead to the child’s confusion at one parent’s expense.
The ways in which parental alienation can come about are endless but it is clear this problem is harmful to any child unless dealt with as promptly as possible. It is important cases of parental alienation are therefore identified quickly so that damage to the relationship between a child and their parent can be limited before it becomes irreparable. Once the issue has been properly identified steps can also be taken to piece the family back together with the aid of family therapy and court orders. The main point parents and lawyers alike should therefore bear in mind is to stay alert to this issue so it can be addressed head on.
Please contact Sahil Aggarwal or another member of the Moore Blatch family team for further information.
Who gets the dog in the divorce: a tall tail
I have dealt with several cases where the biggest bone of contention (excuse the pun) was the family pet. In a particularly acrimonious matter I had suggested to my client that it would be cheaper to buy a new cat than instruct me to keep fighting for it. My suggestion did not go down well and I swiftly learnt that people consider pets to be a part of the family.
The court treats a pet the same way it would a sofa or painting; it’s simply property or a chattel as far as the court is concerned.
If the parties are not married it may well look to who bought the pet and who pays for its upkeep, and costs such as vet’s bills and food may be taken in to consideration. If the pet was gifted then it generally belongs to the recipient.
If parties are married and can’t agree on how to share chattels then the court will get involved, and will often direct a list of items in dispute to be drawn up, with parties taking turns to pick an item they want. The courts really do not like these types of disputes and the cost and stress of litigation can be vast, so you would be wise to avoid it if possible.
Ant McPartlin and his ex-wife share their dog and I’ve come across people who do this, two weeks each alternating. If you can cope with contact with your former partner, then that is a good way to do it (it doesn’t work so well for cats though!).
You cannot make an application to court for ‘custody’ of a pet and a judge won’t decide how to share the pet’s time between you. You can’t apply for ‘access’ to a pet.
There has been much in the press recently about ‘pet-nups’. I have never done or seen one but I have recently prepared a Cohabitation Agreement that specifically set out who owned the dog. It is worth thinking about what would happen upon a relationship breakdown, to avoid arguments and heartbreak at that time.
If you and your partner can’t agree on who should get the pet, you might want to try mediation to see if a mediator can help you reach an agreement.
Sarah French in our Southampton office is a qualified and very experienced mediator.
To return to my ‘tail’ at the top, I ‘won’ the cats for my client, but she never collected them. In that case I don’t think it was ever about the cats, but the principle. Principles are fine but they can be expensive!
If you’re getting divorced and you need some advice, contact Victoria in our Richmond office. T: 0208 334 0315,
Can I change my child’s name?
Parents might want to change their child’s name for a variety of reasons. Perhaps there is an absent parent or the child is being bullied, or perhaps the child wants to change his or her name.
It’s time to knockout those separating myths…Ding Ding
With heavy weight boxer Anthony Joshua looking for a knock out against his opponent this weekend, we look at 5 common myths around separating and divorcing that also need to be knocked out of circulation for good!
What if I want to divorce my husband/wife but they have dementia?
Separating from your partner or getting divorced can be traumatic and stressful. As a family law solicitor and mediator I appreciate the need to be sensitive to my clients’ emotional needs, but also those of their partner / spouse. Often I work in the collaborative process, or as a family mediator, with a family consultant to try to help support clients going through the process and manage heightened emotions or domestic abuse concerns.
Why Paul and Alex Hollywood may regret not continuing with family mediation
The press has recently reported that Paul Hollywood and his wife of 20 years, Alex, will be going to court to argue about the division of their financial assets. The press reports suggest that they had been trying to resolve matters in family mediation, but that this has now broken down so court proceedings are afoot.
Managing mental health during separation and divorce
Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from Monday 13th May to Sunday 19th May. It’s therefore a good time to consider how mental health can be affected by separation and divorce.